Thursday, 13 August 2009

What Don't Panic, the Duncan embarrasser, is actually all about

Don’t Panic scored quite a coup recently, with its embarrassing undercover Alan Duncan video making the BBC’s News at 10.

But what is Don’t Panic? It is being described as an activist group, which is clearly part of what it does. But infact it’s much more than that – a very modern publishing enterprise that, to my mind, points to the future for web-based multimedia magazines.

I interviewed editor Heydon Prowse, and man behind the Duncan tape, for my forthcoming book Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide

As Heydon makes clear, Don’t Panic is first and foremost a marketing company.
Its web presence on Facebook and other social networking sites sprang from the marketing side of things and it has grown into a sort of lifestyle magazine for London 20-somethings who enjoy gigs, nightlife and generally going out. 

But there are other commercial activities. For example, Don’t Panic created a quit smoking campaign for Camden council. He’s editor, but he also sells advertising.

In this video, Heydon explains how Don't Panic grew from a marketing company distributing flyers into a multimedia site, and how Facebook and other social networking sites are an essential part of the enterprise. The video was shot on a Nokia N95 in the magazine’s busy, noisy office in Brixton, so sorry about the clatter and interruptions!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Why believing you can charge for online news is delusional

There are two problems with Rupert Murdoch's announcement that he will charge for access to his companies' news sites in the US, Australia and the UK from next year.

They are: charging itself, and protecting your content if you do.

To charge for content it must be really distinctive, and exclusive. So you have to prevent others – from Google down to individual bloggers – from giving your material away for free. That horse bolted long ago, and there's no stable door lock that can't be picked.

General news is not distictive. With the BBC giving it away, no one is going to pay for it.

Murdoch said at the announcment: "The Wall Street Journal‘s is the world’s most successful paid news site and we will be using our profitable experience there and the resulting unique skills throughout News Corp"

Paid Content points out the problem with that: "Not all News Corp news outlets are created equal. and its offshoots produce financial news and info for which a small group of people are willing to pay decent sums."

Then there is the problem of making content distinctive enough to be worth buying. Adam Tamworth  picks out this paragraph from the BBC's report:   “In order to stop readers from moving to the huge number of free news websites, Mr Murdoch said News Corp would simply make its content ‘better and differentiate it from other people’.”

As Adam comments: “The word 'simply' is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence."

To my mind, the only hope of getting readers to pay for content from The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and other Murdoch general audience sites to to make online access part of a subscrption that probably includes free delivery and big cuts from the cover price for newsagent sales, and a substantial range of other benefits and services.

Nothing new in that; it was part of the discussions we had when I edited the Times Online a decade ago. But will it work? I have my doubts, and tend to side with Vivian Schiller, former senior vice president and general manager of, who said recently  that charging for content is delusional.

Schiller told Newsweek: “I am a staunch believer that people will not in large numbers pay for news content online. It's almost like there's mass delusion going on in the industry—They're saying we really really need it, that we didn't put up a pay wall 15 years ago, so let's do it now.

"In other words, they think that wanting it so badly will automatically actually change the behavior of the audience. The world doesn't work that way.

"Frankly, if all the news organizations locked pinkies, and said we're all going to put up a big fat pay wall, you know what, more traffic for us [at National Public Radio, where she now works]. News is a commodity; I'm sorry to say.”

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

How Google Wave could become the multimedia publishing platform of choice

Next month Google Wave goes live to those who’ve signed up to test it out. Why should journalists care? Specifically, B2B journalists?

Because wave just might be the platform that enables us to do easily  what we aspire to in multimedia journalism: to work collaboratively, bring all media together in one place, and enter into a full conversation with our readers – who in B2B are often a pool of experts.

So what is wave? Well, that’s harder to explain that to demonstrate, so you might want to watch Google’s own video demo.

Or there’s Wikipedia’s definition which reads in part: “It is a web based service, computing platform, and communications protocol designed to merge e-mail, instant messaging, wiki, and social networking. It has a strong collaborative and real-time focus.”

As Google themselves put it: "A wave is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more."

You can check out all it can do at Mashable or Techcrunch

My interest was sparked by a series of questions from Paul Conley He believes wave could be “the thing that may push the entire business world into a more collaborative, more conversational mode -- creating the situation where all industries can report on themselves".

The vital questions he asks are: “Can a news story be a wave? Can trade show coverage be a wave? Can a recurring feature or major issue in the industries we write about be a wave? What does that look like? Who participates?"

We can’t know the answers yet – although I’d hazard a yes in answer to the first three -- but come September 30 we can begin to experiment.

Here’s my take on the most interesting aspects of wave as it relates to journalism.

A wave as an editorial brainstorming, conferencing and editing tool

You can use waves to collaboratively author documents. So instead of, say, sending notes from a meeting out either in an email or putting them into a wiki for collaboration, you can do both at the same time.  

Wave offers a mix of collaborative editing and online discussion – you just add the people who you want to collaborate with on a wave. Everyone on the wave can make changes, those changes will be trackable back to them, and the original author can accept or reject what they like. Once they are happy, they can publish it. 

So an editorial team could privately discuss coverage, assign reporting tasks and pull that material, once created, together for editing.   

Once edited and approved, the material could be put into a new wave – a public wave -- that can be distributed to a much wider group of wave participants.

Reporting collaboratively in a wave, using all media 

Say you are covering a major story, or a conference, trade show or convention. A public wave – or one with a limited invited audience, as is appropriate – can be your platform. 

And it’s multimedia. 

Attachments can be dragged and dropped into the wave – pictures for example. All members of the wave conversation can throw their photos in and they become part of one collective slide show.

A Wave is a hub of conversations that is constant and can be returned to by any number of people and updated by them all, and read by them all, at any time. It's like a mix of instant messenger and email; any wave participant can highlight an element of a message and respond directly to that bit.

So on a major breaking news story, the output from a range of reporters, plus citizen journalists and participants, can be pulled into the one wave.  

At a major event, any number and range of participants can pool their knowledge, expertise, comment and reporting in a single wave that can be the hub of coverage for that event.

A wave as a universal, multimedia publishing platform
You can embed waves in your web pages, into a blog, on discussion group sites, community forums, and you can let users discuss the content using waves that they create. 

Any individual web user can aggregate the wave conversations they are interested in and keep tabs on them all easily. They can bring them into the wave client so they don’t have to go hunting for them all over the place.